Club Focus: Estuary RFC - 'Feeder club' spreading rugby gospel in rural west
Estuary RFC was formed just ten years ago in Shanagolden, Co Limerick following the introduction of rugby at the local Community Games.
"It was a great success", says club president Joe Hoyne. "Up until then rugby hadn't been played in the area. The interest was remarkable and it was from there that we got the idea to start a club.
"We held a rugby summer camp, which had never been held in the area of West Limerick before, and over 70 kids turned up so on that basis we know there was a foundation for a club."
Estuary have made huge strides, developing their facilities through many fundraising activities, working in conjunction with the local soccer and GAA clubs.
"We were very lucky in that we didn't have to go looking for a pitch. We used the community sports grounds, but we had to spend a huge amount of money draining it," Hoyne says.
"We made making it suitable for children's rugby and eventually put in an all-weather pitch with floodlights.
"We have also worked closely with the local soccer and GAA clubs to put a fundraising plan together to provide shared dressing-room facilities at the sports ground."
Currently fielding three mini rugby sides at U-8, U-11 and U-12 age grade, Estuary have recently amalgamated their youth section with Newcastle West.
"We tried to fielding youth teams ourselves but have struggled due to our numbers. We put a plan in place to join up with Newcastle West at youth level from 13 to 18 which has been a huge success," Hoyne says.
"On average, maybe five to eight children from our group travel to Newcastle West to train twice a week under lights and play every Sunday.
"Last year the Newcastle West/Estuary sides claimed the U-13 and U-15 North Munster League and the prestigious Munster U-18 Youths Cup at Thomond Park, which was a fantastic achievement.
"Newcastlewest have a very successful Junior side playing in Division 1 so we also see the amalgamation of great benefit to us long term as it is a pathway for our club players to continue playing the game through to senior level.
"It works the same way with our girls' rugby. We take girls at mini level form U-8 to U-12 who then go on to play with Abbeyfeale, who have a fantastic ladies section."
In providing rugby for players at mini level Hoyne says Estuary has become a 'feeder club' and is particularly proud of their former player, Munster Sub-Academy prop Ben Betts, who recently represented Munster with distinction when helping to claim the U-20 Interprovincial Championship.
"Ben is from Ballyhahill, which is a nearby village and came to play rugby with us when we first started up. A year later we played Young Munster at U-12. Someone saw him and asked would come to play with them," says Hoyne.
"We didn't mind because they are a progressive club, we were just getting started and may not have survived. We are a feeder club and we've no problem being called that.
"I believe the net has to be thrown out into wider parts of Ireland or players like Ben would never come in contact with the game.
"Ben has since gone on to bigger things with Ireland (U-19s) and Munster and hopefully, without injury, he'll go all the way.
"I'd love to know who that Young Munster guy was that spotted Ben Betts that day as he sure had an eye for talent!"
Looking to the future Hoyne said the establishment of Estuary has led to the introduction of rugby to young people living in rural Ireland.
This will continue to assist in providing a platform for their development within the sport but young players leaving the game is a big challenge for them.
"The greatest disappointment for me in rugby is the drop-off of players. We have a hardcore committee of five that have been there from the start and our job is to keep rugby going at Estuary and to help provide a pathway for our young players," he says.
"If the players have nowhere to go, they give up the game.
"For me, that should never be the case, so we will continue to think outside the box. We will do everything we can to sustain rugby in rural West Limerick."